It’s winter in Minnesota. Private eye Nils Shapiro drives an aged Volvo, gets up at the “crack” of 8:55, eats peanut butter sandwiches, and lives in a crappy house that builders want to buy so they can level it and start over. He’s certainly not ready to blend in.
In Edina, the “regal suburb” of Minneapolis, police call in Shapiro on a murder case that is diabolical, at the very least, in its cover-up. An entire house is covered in a layer of vacuum cleaner dust. The foyer. The stairs. The hall. The master suite. And the murder victim. All covered in dust.
The victim is Maggie Somerville, age 41. Divorced, two kids. The maid discovered the body. Nothing was stolen and she had not been sexually assaulted. When told of his ex-wife’s demise, the ex-husband is surprised. Her boyfriend, however, is not. And Shapiro happens to know the ex-husband’s brother. The obvious question is how do you accumulate that much vacuum cleaner dust? Dozens of bags, maybe hundreds? The dump of dust is the perfect DNA-destroying technique. You could test the accumulated DNA inside the house for decades and never isolate the killer’s specific trace.
Shapiro is 38. He is having a very hard time getting over Micaela, “who became my wife and then my ex-wife and then lingered like a chronic sinus infection.” Shapiro is jaded, stubborn, cynical, snarky, and romantic. He’s also dogged. Shapiro is given the job of cozying up to the ex-husband and the boyfriend.
Shapiro’s PI work gives him something to care about. And distracts him from thinking about Micaela. “I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ate in front of the Bengals/Colts play-off game. I wanted to care about the game but didn’t. I’d lost interest in sports, which I chalked up to the general anesthesia I’d mainlined to survive Micaela. Couldn’t stick with a game, couldn’t stick with a book, couldn’t give a damn about beautiful women. I’d pissed off more than a few, which was preferable to the others who I had straight out hurt. At thirty-eight, and for the first time in my life, I’d turned into one of those guys.”
Shapiro is hired by and working with the Edina police, but told to keep that fact to himself. He knows to keep his jaded self under wraps at work. “We Minnesotans are not tough-talking people. It doesn’t work here. We sand off our rough edges to play nice and keep our hardness buried deep.”
And that’s the cool thing about Gone to Dust. That Minnesota Nice and Minnesota Clean contrasting with the darkness behind the murder. Edina is not known for its dark alleys. It’s as if Nils Shapiro manifests the dichotomy (signaled by the odd mashup of his Swedish given name and Jewish surname). But us readers get access to his snarky, biting thoughts.
The plot twists nicely. There’s a fine crew of suspects. The Nils-Michaela thing isn’t your run-of-the-mill frustrated relationship. The resolution involves all that Minnesota bland sameness that Shapiro frequently notices. Somewhere in all the homogeneity, something is bound to jump out. Or maybe it’s finding the links in everything that’s common. A smart, snappy voice coupled with a fiendish plot makes Gone to Dust a first-rate read.